The voting system in the Republic of Ireland is far from being like the French voting system we know. Indeed, the Irish system operates on the basis of proportional representation, with transfer of votes for constituencies offering several seats (three, four, or five). A little confused? Here is a small presentation of how the Irish voting system works…
On polling day, voters are given a card on which all candidates are listed in alphabetical order, with their photo and party logo in front of their name if they wish.
In the voting booth, the voter ranks his candidates: he puts a 1 in front of his first choice, a 2 in front of his second choice, and so on. He is free to rank all the candidates, to choose only one, or to stop during the ranking.
While this system allows the voter to fully express his or her wishes, it provides a lot of work during the vote count, which often lasts for long hours or even several days in some constituencies.
The ballot papers are first collected and sorted, with invalid votes being eliminated. The quota is then determined. It is obtained by dividing the number of valid votes by the number of seats to be filled plus 1, and then adding 1. For example, if 30,000 valid votes were cast for a district with three seats, the quota is 30,000 divided by 4, plus 1, i.e. 7,501. This quota is the number of votes that candidates must achieve. It is impossible to have more candidates above the quota than seats. For example, in the example, it is possible to have three candidates with 7,501 votes (or more), but it is not possible to have four (although it is possible to have four candidates with 7,500 votes).
The first count starts then. If a candidate has received enough votes to meet or exceed the quota, he or she is elected. His surplus of votes, the difference between the number of votes received and the quota, is then transferred. For example, if candidate A is elected with 1,000 votes “too many”, and for 40% of the ballots showing A as first choice, candidate B is second choice, then the candidate receives 400 votes. This materializes by the transfer of 400 ballots taken at random. If two candidates exceed the quota at the same time, we start with the one who has the largest surplus.
If the distribution of surplus does not allow for the election of a new candidate, or if there is no surplus, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated. Several candidates may eliminate at the same time if it is clear that transfers cannot “save” them. All the votes of the eliminated candidates are transferred, following the same principle as mentioned above.
The second counting round then begins. The principle is the same, with the only difference that the transfer is only made on the votes received in the previous count, and not on the totality.
The counts continue in this way for as long as necessary. There are two conditions that can lead to the end of the process. The first is obvious, all the seats are filled. The second occurs when there is only one more candidate than there are still vacant seats left, and it is clear that he or she cannot catch up with the others. He is then eliminated and the others win the seats. For example, in a constituency with four elected members, two seats were allocated after several rounds of counting. This leaves two seats to be filled. At some point, through eliminations, if no candidate reaches the quota, there will be three candidates in contention. Then, if the last candidate is more late than possible transfers would bring, he is eliminated and the other two are elected.
In order to be reimbursed for campaign expenses (up to, for example, 6,348 euros for a Dáil election), the candidate must obtain at least a quarter of the quota. For example, for a constituency with four seats, he must obtain 5% of the valid votes.